Not knowing what your baby wants or why they’re crying can be incredibly frustrating for you and them. Cry translators aren’t invented yet but there is another option – baby sign language.
What is it exactly?
Baby sign language is when parents communicate with their pre-speech baby or toddler via a number of basic hand gestures or signs in order to more effectively address their needs and wants. Adapted from AUSLAN (Australian sign language), it’s also the first form of sign language used for an infant who is hearing impaired or will never be able to communicate verbally and is often used for children with other special needs too. It’s easy to learn with no previous signing experience required by parents, and is generally used from six months right up until your child starts speaking and replacing signs with words (around two and a half).
Experts and parents who have used baby sign language report the following benefits:
- Babies can tell you what they need or want before learning to speak
- It makes parenting less stressful and frustrating
- It strengthens the bond between parents and children with a higher level of insight and understanding of their needs, wants and interests
- Research shows babies who sign have increased confidence and self-esteem
- It helps accelerate the speech process
- It provides a strong foundation for advanced vocabulary, reading and writing
- It stimulates brain development resulting in a higher IQ
How to get started
If you’re keen to give baby sign language a try with your little one, the good news is it’s super easy and fun. The best way to start is with a few simple words and signs – the most common ones being milk, yes, no, nappy and hungry. Each time the word is used, you say it clearly out loud while also then making the correct sign gesture and ensuring you are level and have eye contact with your baby.
As you and your baby get used to this method of communication, you can increase the number of signs you use. The time it takes a baby to start signing back varies from child to child, however, generally a six-month-old baby who has been exposed to baby sign language will start signing themselves anywhere from one to six months afterwards.
To learn how to sign, organisations such as Australian Baby Hands offer classes you can attend. You can also learn the method through books, DVDs and flashcards featuring signs for all of the most common and basic words that you might want to use with your baby.
Have fun with it
Remember to be patient, consistent and encourage your baby, but most of all have fun. For best results be sure to teach other family members and caregivers the signs too.
Have you tried baby sign language with your little one?